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Space: Israel's final frontier


Opher Doron of Israel Aerospace Industries' Space Division talks moon missions and nanosatellites with the 'Magazine' on the 30th anniversary of Israel's first satellite launch.

'Space is exciting," says Opher Doron, when describing the look on the faces of kids who visit Israel Aerospace Industries to learn about how Israel is pioneering in the great unknown. "It's a big wow," for them. "They are talking about Mars nowadays and exploration, comets, landings. So space is exciting. It is the ultimate technology. It brings together everything in tech – from physics, engineering and launchers and loaders, you name it and it's there."

Today Israel is aiming to be the fourth country to get to the moon. It is also developing nano-satellites – little satellites the size of a milk carton – and Israel is pioneering high-resolution photos from satellites designed specifically to aid environmental research. In an era when space programs in some Western countries seem to be ossifying, Israel is doing what it tends to do best: being innovative and self-sufficient.

Today IAI is celebrating 30 years in space. The origins of the space program begin in the 1980s when Menachem Begin was prime minister. The Israel Space Agency was created in January 1983 under the Science Ministry, which was itself a fledgling ministry. IAI built Israel's first satellite, the Ofeq-1. The 157-kg. satellite was launched on a Shavit rocket at Palmahim, south of Tel Aviv. It was launched westward because of Israel's hostile neighbors to the east and entered a low earth orbit, circling the earth every 90 minutes. Israel became the eighth country to put its own satellite into space.

"Thirty years is a long time for everything and a good time to look back and forward," says Doron. Israel has achieved a lot since then. The space sector is booming, he says.

"We have launched a large number of satellites and we have some of the best satellites in the world up in space, providing amazing resolution and fantastic coverage of large areas." These can provide sharp high-quality images and they are cost effective. In terms of cost and weight, Israel is a world leader, he says.

The satellites Israel has launched have outlived their expected life spans. Some were designed for four years and survived for 15 years. "So Israel can now look with great detail wherever it needs to look and that is an important part of national strategy. The program achieved not only the goals set out for it in the large picture but also surpassed expectations in quality and number."

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